Tech Impacts: How Social Media is Altering Attention Spans

In the past 20 years, the average human attention span has decreased from twelve to eight seconds. As the internet has grown and algorithms have become more advanced, humans are able to open their smartphones and, within seconds, have access to instant information and entertainment. As social media platforms like Tik Tok and instagram flood our screens with an endless supply of short clips under a minute long, we are encouraged to switch our brains from 10-minute baking recipes to this week’s best pro soccer clips in an instant. With an endless supply of entertainment, users are less inclined to sit and wait for a video to buffer, when they know there is another one waiting for them with a scroll.

In a study conducted by the Technical University of Denmark, it was confirmed that social media reduces the global attention span. How have companies adapted to this? The answer lies in the short engagements users have on those same social media platforms.

In order to reach younger audiences and capture their attention, companies have had to subscribe to this new way of accessing information. To access a large audience, marketing teams spend increasing amounts of time providing a constant flow of posts, stories, tweets, and more across social media platforms. Engaging viewers with an early hook, promoting only one main idea, and providing easy-to-consume data has proven effective to maximize the short interactions with an audience. Author and marketing professor Ron Stefanski called these marketing tactics “snackable”, and the metaphor rings true. We gravitate towards easy-access, quick, satisfying snacks just as we click on bright colored websites and ads that grab our attention and satisfy our changing attention spans.

Are these strategies perpetuating the issue? Most likely yes. However, as artificial intelligence evolves and allows us to predict consumer behavior to a T, companies will continue

to adapt. As of now, we know that humans’ attention spans are less than that of a goldfish. Whether this altered attention span is objectively worse, and there are arguments for and against, time will only tell.